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PS3 Preview – Splatterhouse

It’s been a long, hard development cycle for Namco-Bandai’s Splatterhouse, the publisher’s attempt to revive the popular arcade series with a next-gen game that pays homage to its source material with plenty of blood and gore. The game has suffered from numerous delays and switched developers midway through the project, which is never an easy transition. Despite all of the problems along the way, Namco is determined to release the reimagining of the original Splatterhouse later this year, and recently showed off a pre-Alpha build in New York City. The ultraviolence one would want and expect is definitely present, and there are plenty of clever nods to the original game, but the buggy nature of the build made me wonder if it will actually be done before the year is out.

It needs to be said again: Splatterhouse is a very violent game, and the gameplay thrives on that concept. The plot is essentially the same as the 1988 arcade game; after Rick’s girlfriend is kidnapped, he dons a mask that turns him into a muscular killing machine with a thirst for blood, and he tears monsters apart limb from limb as he tries to rescue Jennifer. Rick must do this to fulfill the mask’s bloodlust; the more kills he gets, the more powers and abilities he can unlock. Spilling enough blood and filling out the Brutal Gauge also allows Rick to go into Berserker Mode, where he can do even more insane damage to anything unfortunate enough to cross his path. There are some combat-centric puzzles, or “organic”, as one of the game’s producers called them, which usually meant disfiguring or grinding up enemies in some way to clear Rick’s path and allow him to move on to the next section. Along the way, Jennifer leaves a trail of “breadcrumbs”, except instead she drops sexy pictures of herself for Rick to find. Yes, it’s cheesy and unrealistic, but it definitely adds to the over-the-top horror-movie feel of the game.

One of the most interesting aspects of Splatterhouse was watching the effects of the damage Rick was taking on his body. Flesh can be torn off, and his ribs can be exposed; he can even lose an arm or two. All of these things can be fixed by killing enough of the monsters, either by using weapons or his bare hands. Additionally, there are some 2D side-scrolling segments that truly pay homage to the series’ roots, though the presentation has obviously been updated for the current generation.

Even though Splatterhouse looks like a bloody good time crafted with a lot of attention to the source material, I definitely had concerns about whether or not the game will meet its intended fall 2010 release date. The framerate dipped a number of times, and the game even froze occasionally; the game’s producer admitted that there was still a lot of work left to do. I understand that the build was pre-Alpha and nowhere near complete, but will they be able to clean it all up in three or four months? Not being a game developer, that’s a question I can’t answer, but I wouldn’t be completely shocked to see another delay in Splatterhouse’s future.

If the game ships without any technical difficulties, fans of the original arcade series should be pleased with the way Namco-Bandai has handled the property. As a bonus, the first three Splatterhouse games are included as unlockables, just in case gamers want to go back to the franchise’s gory roots. It remains to be seen if the gameplay will continue to stay interesting after spilling buckets and buckets of blood, but at this point, those who have been anxiously waiting for the revival of this series might be happy enough if it comes out on time.